Clayton Kershaw is no postseason choker

San Diego Padres v Los Angeles Dodgers

By Adam Brown

America as a nation has been a major player in social, economic and geo-political events across the world for centuries and centuries. The country has now found itself as the face of western capitalism. The free market has been used and manipulated by millionaires and billionaires to maximise their wealth. The sporting culture on the other hand falls on the opposite side of the spectrum. With rigid, inflexible salary caps, the sporting landscape across the NFL, NHL and NBA see players earning potential pale in comparison to that of other leagues across the world.

One place this isn’t a problem, Major League Baseball. If ever a league encapsulated the fiscal structure of a nation, it’s MLB. And if a team were ever to be the poster child for this, it’s the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers, who with a payroll sitting at $314million according to Sportrac.com, $95million higher than the Yankees have a clear advantage financially than the field. The Dodgers over recent years have been the paragon of “win now” adding whatever payroll necessary to secure that elusive championship and end the 27 year wait for success.

Since the Guggenheim group purchased the team in 2012, they’ve made no secret that money is no obstacle. Upon their takeover, the biggest August trade in baseball history saw the team acquire Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto, taking on well over $300million worth of contracts from the Boston Red Sox. They ended that season 86-76 missing the playoffs, heading into the offseason with money to spend and appetites whet. In free agency they added Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon League eclipsing $200million in salary. They won the National League West.! They were eliminated by the Cardinals!

2014, rather than licking wounds, the Dodgers went back on the offensive, and opened the chequebook once more to re-sign the otherworldly Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw inked a 7-year $215million deal. They won the National League West! They were eliminated by the Cardinals!

This season they added payroll via trades, taking on veterans like Jimmy Rollins and free agency with the signings of Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson. They also cleared future salary sending Matt Kemp to San Diego for Yasmani Grandal. They won the National League West…

Now comes the time to change the repetitive narrative. The Dodgers are entering the postseason with a devastating starting rotation.

Pitcher W-L ERA K/BB FIP WAR
Clayton Kershaw 16-7 2.13 7.17 1.99 7.5
Zack Greinke 19-3 1.66 5.00 2.76 9.3
Brett Anderson 10-9 3.69 2.52 3.94 1.6
Mike Bolsinger 6-6 3.62 2.18 3.91 1.2

Matching up against the front three of Harvey, DeGrom, Syndegaard, it’s paramount that the Dodgers pitch well to compete with the Mets. Kershaw and Greinke arguably could finish first and second in the NL CY Young vote. The rest days make it plausible that if necessary they could pitch 4 of the 5 games in this opening series. Elsewhere they have had solid production from both Anderson and Bolsinger, and have Alex Wood as well if required.

Last season Kershaw was the reigning Cy Young award winner, about to win it again for that season, he headed into the postseason with murmurings of his past October performance leaving much to be desired. He delivered two starts in the series against the Cardinals, a solid, but unspectacular 3 runs in 6 inning effort in game 4, but a total shellacking to the tune of 8 runs in 6.2 innings in game 1. The murmurs got louder, the moans got stronger and the critics got harsher when deciphering him. To make matters worse, fellow NL West lefty Madison Bumgarner put in a postseason of the ages to carry the Giants to a third title in 5 years. The Bumgarner or Kershaw questions and debates were frequent over the winter, and Kershaw’s grasp on the subjective pitcher of the generation title was all of a sudden up for grabs. Or was it?

Taking a deeper look into Kershaw’s postseason performance, you can see although still a mixed bag, he has been somewhat more impressive than narrative would indicate. 

2008

Two relief appearances, pitching just 2 innings, surrendering 1 run.

2009

He pitched very well in game 2 of the NLDS against the Cardinals, giving up 2 runs in 6.2 innings. The next series, two poor starts against what was a Phillies juggernaut only mustering 6.2 innings and the Phillies managing to score 7 runs off him.

2013

This was Kershaw’s first postseason since reaching the very apex of professional pitching. Having won the Cy Young award in 2011, and would win it in this season, this was the first October test for this edition of Kershaw.

To say Kershaw delivered is a wild understatement, for 75% of this postseason, it was mesmeric. He dismantled the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS. In the two games he started in this series, he stifled the Braves, conceding a solitary run in 13 innings.

Moving on the NLCS, his first start in the series versus the Cardinals saw more of the same, 0 earned runs in 6 innings. After this start, Kershaw held an ERA of 0.47 for the postseason.

His final start of October was horrendous, 7 runs in 4 innings and a drubbing at the hands of St. Louis was a dampener on an otherwise stellar postseason for Kershaw.

2014

As aforementioned, a nightmare game 1 up against those pesky Cardinals, 8 runs in 6.2 did nothing to stop the growing narrative of Kershaw “losing it” come playoff time.

The next start was a standard “Quality Start” of 6 innings, 3 runs. A miserable postseason for Kershaw and the Dodgers.

Whilst there has been ups and downs in Kershaw’s October career, it’s all in a miniscule sample size of 51 innings, roughly between 20-25% of a regular season workload. In the previous two seasons, Kershaw has made 6 starts in the playoffs, he produced game scores of 76, 67, 70, 17, 36 and 59. Four of his six starts have been good or great, yet we fixate on the two outliers.

For the Dodgers to go deep into this postseason, with the Cardinals potentially waiting for them again, they will need Kershaw to be at his best, as they will Greinke, as they will Puig and Adrian Gonzalez.

The Dodgers are in a mindset of World Series or bust, and with Kershaw and Greinke, they certainly hold a pair of aces.

Adam Brown is a featured writer for Call to the Bullpen. You can find him on Twitter @ABrown31, or join in the conversation @CTBPod, in the comment section below or on our Facebook page.

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